Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

August 18, 2009

Beer Issues:

Blue Laws Blow

Laws on the books to enforce religious—or worse, political—views are just plain bullshit.
by Eddie Glick

I like my beer like my women: pale, strong, full-bodied, and extremely bitter.
Contact Eddie»
A few weeks back I was out for an extended road trip in the parents' Gremlin when I found myself freakishly close to the Minnesota border. I had not intended to hug that invisible line that separates Badger from Gopher (well, I guess the Mississippi is visible), and I thought that I had subconsciously steered myself this way for a reason. The reason, I deduced rather quickly, was beer. Not living in the Twin Cities area, I find it difficult to get a hold of some of the Midwest's best beer: Surly. Seeing as how my random travels had brought me this far, I decided to cross Old Man River, zip into Minnesota, and grab me a trunk load of every four pack of Surly silos I could lay my hands on.

After stopping at no less than four liquor stores, I finally realized my plans had been thwarted. You see, this particular day that I was out wandering aimlessly just happened to be a Sunday. And in the state of Minnesota, no alcohol may be sold in liquor stores on that particular day. (You can't buy a car, either.) I had run into what is known as a Blue Law.

Blue Laws are ordinances that regulate business on Sundays, but they're remnants of the puritanical bullshit practice of trying to legislate morality.
Blue Laws, technically, are state and local ordinances that regulate business on Sundays, but their roots are from colonial America, where they were in most cases used to enforce moral standards because, you know, that was the day God visited town. In other words, they're remnants of the puritanical bullshit practice of trying to legislate morality. Ottawa County in Michigan, home to New Holland Brewing, just recently got rid of a Sunday beer and wine ban on the books since the area was settled by a bunch of uptight Dutch god-shouters back in the 1800s.

A few of these laws have a little more sinister background, like the ban on alcohol purchases in Chicago before 11:00 a.m. on Sundays. In this case, the law has absolutely nothing to do with Jesus. It's a holdover from the mid-19th century when swarms of German immigrants inundated the city. The vast majority of these people were menial laborers working horrific jobs, but they did get that one day a week off: Sunday. And with that one day they clung to their cultural traditions like Baby-Boy to a bottle of Bourbon County Stout: they went to church, then they went to the beer garden. And in the beer garden they talked and bitched about work, and some of them started to make plans about what to do about the awful conditions they worked under. The city's big wigs saw this as a very serious threat to their riches and power. Not to mention they didn't want any filthy immigrants with weird cultural ways to try to push them around. So they banned alcohol sales on Sunday morning. No beer, no beer garden, no hatching anarchistic plots.

Then there are the handful of jackasses trying to persuade us that Blue Laws are meant to guarantee a day off for workers, a completely specious argument.
Then there are the handful of jackasses trying to persuade us that Blue Laws are meant to guarantee a day off for workers. This argument is completely specious. First off, there are already federal laws limiting the work week to 40 hours. Second, if everyone had Sunday off, what the Hell would everyone do on that day? Go to the movies? Nope, somebody's gotta take tickets, sell popcorn, and run the projector. OK, we'll drive over to the state park and go for a hike. Sorry, but the gas station is closed, and no park rangers are around to check for your visitor's pass. And, oh shit, little junior fell off the coffee table while pretending to be a Transformer and split his little skull open. I guess we'll have to put some duct tape on it till tomorrow since no one's working at the hospital.

Obviously, we need alcohol laws to help protect us from the stupidity of our fellow men and women. But this is not what Blue Laws like Sunday alcohol bans are designed for. In addition to their origins of trying to control morality, they're also the fodder of neo-prohibition fuckheads. "Don't let anybody drink on the Lord's day!" they wail. Like it's more of a sin for some loser to get drunk and plow into a vanload of Cub Scouts on Sunday than, say, Tuesday.

And besides—getting back to the reason for my rant—I had absolutely no intention of drinking even a single can of Surly on the day of my visit to Minnesota. All I wanted was to haul it back to the basement and cram it into the beer fridge for some sippin' at a date to be determined later. But instead of dropping a giant chunk of change in Minnesota, I went home and invested it in some more local fare. Minnesota's (and, unfortunately, Surly's) loss because of these idiotic Blue Laws was my local breweries' gain.

I agree, Blue Laws are an outdated relic. The banning of beer sales on Sunday is an aspect that is kept alive, in my opinion, by neo-prohibitionist, uber-religious conservatives. It's ridiculous that you can't buy beer on Sunday, one of the few days most Americans have off and which they can actually enjoy a beer. However... keep the no car sales on Sunday. I want my day to browse without being annoyed by a salesman. Not all Blue Laws are bad!
posted by Nigel | August 18, 2009, 12:15 AM
Here! Here! Preach on, brother!! I was just in Minneapolis this weekend and ran into the same issue, intending to fill the trunk on the way home. And Ottawa County, where your already-mentioned New Holland is located, allowed liquor sales in restaurants, but not beer or wine - so you could do shots, but not sip a glass of New Holland!IMHO, all Blue Laws ARE bad...let the market decide...
posted by rings | August 18, 2009, 1:42 PM
why would you state that political reasons for stupid laws are worse than religious ones? they're equally bad, or even the other way around. at least if there are political ones, they make some rational sense with the self-interest angle, as opposed to the religious reasons which are based on nothing to do with reality. and i would also differ with you in that i blieve that all of the alcohol related blue laws are mainly there for religious, not political reasons.
posted by andy | August 19, 2009, 2:47 PM
As far as Minnesota, there's no push from liquor stores (other than the p***k who owns Chicago Lake)to open on Sunday cause...why would they want to? They get to spend Sundays with their families and all their competition is closed.
posted by Frank Mooth | August 19, 2009, 4:42 PM
While that may be true, Frank, as noted above, they do lose "tourist" business because of it.
And not all of the world's liquor store owners are "spending Sunday with their families"...
Historically, as Eddie states, these laws weren't put in place for "family" reasons...they were, at their roots, racist or class warefare and really have no place in the modern world.
posted by rings | August 25, 2009, 3:26 PM

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